Saturday, August 29, 2009

Fire in the Sky

When we lived in Chicago, I was interested in the space shuttles as most Americans are, but I never felt a personal connection. All that changed when we moved to FL where we can see the launches from our front yard. When you see it live, there is a deeper sense of connection. And when you get to see the fiery spectacle of a night launch, it's even better.

Last night, the shuttle went up just before midnight, and I ran out to the park in front of my house to view it. I was suprised that no one else came out. Sure, it was late, but it was a Friday night. For launches, there is usually a little knot of neighbors craning up at the sky. But on this evening I was all alone, watching for the ball of light. It started with an eerie orange glow that backlit the area behind the houses on our street. All of a sudden the fireball itself was in view, rocketing skyward. At first it was flame-colored, but then it died down to white. By the end it looked like a star moving slowly and steadily up into space.

As I watched the shuttle, I was struck by the awe of 1) the fact that we actually send people into space; and 2) actually being able to see it from my home. I did see one other night launch, and that one was even better as I was on a cruise ship near Cape Canaveral. We do a lot of Disney cruises, and they sail out of Port Canaveral. One December a few years ago, a night launch was scheduled for the first night of the cruise. Instead of immediately steaming towards our destination, the captain kept the ship in the general vicinity so we could all see the launch. At the appointed time, everyone streamed from the dinner tables out onto deck. I'm surprised the ship didn't tip over to that side! Seeing the actual launch pad and watching the shuttle go up from the very first moment of the launch gave me the shivers. It was so beautiful, like a mini-sun heading up into orbit.

This wasn't quite as exciting, but it was still a thrill because it was the first time I've watched a live night launch from home. It's so surreal to watch that lightball and realize that there are people in it. By the time I went in, the TV was saying that the shuttle had passed the point of no return. It continued on its way for what will hopefully be another safe mission.

In Chicago, the most interesting thing I ever saw in the sky was an occasional blimp. Here in Celebration, we have hot air balloons almost every morning and a shuttle launch every few months just to keep everything interested. Just another benefit of living in the Sunshine State.